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Kashmir’s apple farmers and JKPICCA must find a common ground

Ziraat Times Editorial Board

Kashmir’s apple industry, a cornerstone of the region’s economy, has made significant progress towards modernisation and growth in recent years. However, despite significant progress, a multitude of challenges remain in the industry, especially dwindling economic returns for farmers and investors in the value-addition chain. Last week, Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers Cum Dealers Union (KVGFCDU) and Jammu and Kashmir Fruit and Vegetable Processing and Integrated Cold Chain Association (JKPICCA) highlighted their several challenges, which are significant and require public policy and private sector collaborative actions.

From the grievances of fruit growers and dealers regarding exorbitant cold storage charges to the plummeting prices due to oversupply and imported fruit, a collaborative approach is needed to navigate these iissues. Ziraat Times has always been advocating identification of a common ground between the key stakeholders: Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers Cum Dealers Union (KVGFCDU), Jammu and Kashmir Fruit and Vegetable Processing and Integrated Cold Chain Association (JKPICCA), and the government on this issue.

The KVGFCDU’s concerns are legitimate. Exorbitant cold storage costs, coupled with restrictions on procuring packaging materials from the open market, significantly impact their profits. JKPICCA, acknowledging these concerns, has vowed to investigate and find solutions, which reflects a very positive approach. However, JKPICCA also represents cold storage owners, who likely have their own economic pressures.

The Horticulture Department, as a facilitator, can play a crucial role in bringing all parties together. The initiative taken by Director Horticulture in this regard is the right step in the right direction.

Moving forward, several steps could be taken in identifying a common ground and finding solutions.

For instance, the government can establish a committee comprising representatives from KVGFCDU, JKPICCA, and independent experts to determine fair and standardized cold storage rates. This would ensure transparency and prevent exploitation.

In order to promote fair competition in packing materials, KVGFCDU should be allowed to procure high-quality cardboard boxes and other packing materials from the open market at competitive prices. This would introduce healthy competition and potentially drive down prices within the cold storage facilities.

When it comes to collaboration on storage optimization, JKPICCA, in collaboration with the government and KVGFCDU, can explore strategies to optimize storage utilization. This could involve staggered storage periods to regulate the flow of apples into the market and prevent gluts, a practice often adopted in advanced fruit producing countries.

In addition, more investment in grading and processing facilities in J&K is crucial. JKPICCA, with government support, should create a roadmap to establish or upgrade such facilities in Kashmir. It is well known that graded apples fetch better prices, and processing can add value by producing apple concentrate, jams, and other products, creating new revenue streams for farmers.

Mitigating the impact of imported apples is a high priority for both farmers and JKPICCA. There is a strong case for the union government to explore tariffs or quotas on imported apples, particularly during peak harvest seasons in Kashmir. This would create a level playing field for domestic producers, which is very essential.

JKPICCA, KVGFCDU, and the government can also work together to develop a strong marketing and branding strategy for Kashmiri apples, something that is long overdue. This could involve highlighting their unique qualities, geographical origin, and superior taste through targeted campaigns. That marketing aspect for Kashmiri apples is still largely missing.

Stakeholders should also explore and promote exports of Kashmir apples to new markets in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, which can help reduce dependence on domestic markets and create new opportunities for growers.

Policy makers at the government level should also consider new or modified schemes providing financial assistance or subsidies to help farmers offset storage costs and invest in better quality packing materials.

By finding common ground and implementing some of these solutions, all stakeholders can win. Farmers will earn better profits, JKPICCA members can ensure the sustainability of their businesses, and the government can achieve its goals of promoting economic growth and agricultural prosperity in Jammu & Kashmir.

This situation requires a spirit of cooperation and compromise. JKPICCA’s commitment to address grower concerns is a positive step. The government’s role as a facilitator and regulator is crucial. By working together, the key stakeholders can create a win-win situation for Kashmir’s apple industry, ensuring the long-term success of this vital sector.

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